Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

TikTok. Don’t explain, just entertain

By Christian Perrins, Head of Strategy at Waste

I’ve been asked to offer an opinion on how brands should add TikTok to their social mix. I can see why they’d want to. It’s an increasingly unmissable staple of youth culture. It’s huge (something like 800-850 million monthly active users, depending who you ask, in 154 countries, speaking 75 different languages).

In the UK alone, TikTok reckons it has 17 million users spending 66 minutes a day on the app. Sixty. Six. Minutes. That’s a big chunk of day. And it means TikTok is the first serious threat to the Facebook and Google digital duopoly in a looong time. It’s fun too. The best short videos you’re seeing on Twitter and Instagram – most of them are TikToks.

BUT before we get into how your brand can embrace TikTok, let’s start with the perennial planner’s question. Why? Here are 2 pointy questions:

1. Are you looking to reach a Gen Z audience?

If the answer’s yes, carry on. If not, don’t trouble yourself any further. TikTok is painstakingly tailored for a generation of curious, creative and collaborative young adults. If you have nothing for them and can’t speak to their needs, jog on.

2. Are you popping in or sticking around?

Really important question, this. If your marketing budget is serving short-term sales targets, you’ll necessarily view TikTok as an advertising platform. If you’re looking to build long term brand-affinity with Gen Z, you’ll view TikTok as a community-hub. Either way, you’ll have to acknowledge that it isn’t another generic social platform. It has a unique culture and creative form. 

So here are some pointers:

If you’re making ads, make TikTok ads

TikTok tells brands: ‘Don’t Make Ads, Make TikToks.’ Funny thing is, when you head to their Business Creative Center, they hint: “Ads that look like user-generated content are popular on TikTok.” So what they really mean is, make ads that don’t look like ads. In other words, assimilate your creative into the rules of the house:

–   Vertical video. Non-negotiable.

–   Raw & real > glossy & fake

–   Upbeat music > moody silence

–   Short form storytelling > random visual assault

(Then you’ll need a clear and compelling call to action, same as any DR format.)

All of which broadly makes sense, but you’ve got to assume that smart Gen Z’ers will become hyper-literate in the tricks and tropes of TikTok ads very quickly, so I’d be tempted to break some of these rules in the spirit of the Von Restorff effect.

If you’re making content, make TikTok content

The same proprietary rules apply to content creation and community building. You can’t just chop your generic social media post into a sub 15s format and expect it to achieve anything on TikTok. (If anything, you’d be better off creating specifically for TikTok, then shipping the same post onto your other channels. Try it both ways and see which works best. I’ll wait.)

Find your creative twist

As much as those creative guidelines are a start, you’re going to want to think more deeply about your brand offering. You have to bring something entertaining to TikTok, and that means finding a unique twist.

Let’s roleplay:

You’re the CMO of a bread brand who’s realised Bake Off isn’t going to save you from the carb-dodging, plant-based diets of today’s young shoppers. You need to build bridges and brand love. Your Social Media Manager has convinced you that TikTok is the answer. Now how do we make it work?

Play with your category

Generic bread-making videos and recipe posts won’t get you far on TikTok. Push harder. Take your Head of Strategy’s shitty starters for ten (‘Celebrity loaf-a-likes’… ‘Extreme baking’) and come up with better ones. Get TikTok famous for delivering that.

Play with your product

I learned this when I worked on Pepsi Max and Doritos in 2014 (when Vine was the creatively-empowering platform du jour). You can play to the culture of the channel AND put your product front and centre. Here’s Chipotle doing a lovely job of it, albeit with a well-trodden trope.

Work with talented creators

TikTok’s all about collaboration. So collaborate. (The TikTok algorithm rewards content that’s been made by popular tastemakers and emerging talent.) Find the TikTok talent that can bring your creative twist to life. Let them do their own thing with the lightest-touch guardrails you can tolerate without having a nosebleed.

Pick your moments to participate

TikTok’s built on trending music and challenges. If you’ve started from a point of purpose, you should have an instinct for which ones you can own, and which will end up being a cringey stretch. (On a technical note, you should know that since May 2020, most verified businesses can only use music from the TikTok library of royalty-free music. So you’ve got to work a bit harder now).

Don’t explain, just entertain

If there’s one rule for this channel, this is it. Exposition and explanation are totally alien to the channel. Why is that Nathan Apodaca video so compelling? Because no ad agency in the world could have got there with a committee of decision makers and guardrails. Sure, they’ll all be copying it now, but shouldn’t you aspire to a channel that creates content as effortlessly as this? The NBA is doing good stuff.

Cultural rules > creative rules

When we helped Brawl Stars launch their TikTok channel, we assumed we’d need to lean on the outrageously handsome community managers Ryan and Dani. After all, TikTok’s all about real people and raw UGC. But the truth is, while those videos did well, it was when we started mixing gameplay with channel trends that things really blew up.

And finally, stick at it

I’m going to go ahead and say that some brands would have been better off staying away from the channel all together rather than dabbling. Oh hey HP! How’s it going Calvin Klein?

Do you really want to be a huge brand with an underwhelming presence? If you’re going to embrace the TikTok phenomenon, go big, or go home (to Facebook and Google).

Byeeee x

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